Lots of people remember the humorous things that happened when they were kids. Marlo Thomas remembers more than most. That's because funny was the name of the game in her house.
It all started with her father, Toledo native Danny Thomas, who made Americans laugh for decades as a nightclub performer and actor (Make Room for Daddy).
Then there are the houseguests. You know, the fellas who dropped by her Southern California house when Marlo was a girl. Guys like Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, and Red Skelton.
Thomas recounts her laugh-filled childhood — and beyond — in Growing Up Laughing: My Story and the Story of Funny. She takes the reader not only through her younger years, but up to present day as well.
There's her big success in front of and behind the camera on the ground-breaking 1960s sitcom That Girl; the other big and small-screen roles; the courtship with and marriage to white-haired TV talker Phil Donahue; and the ongoing work with her father's pride and joy: the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis.
All of that would be enough for a great read about a person who has seen and done it all in the world of show business.
But Thomas takes it a step further in Growing Up Laughing, linking the laughter she's enjoyed in her life to how the funniest people in America found the humor in theirs.
Interspersed with her personal recollections are interviews she conducted with the biggest names in American comedy: Stephen Colbert, Billy Crystal, Tina Fey, Jay Leno, George Lopez, Conan O'Brien, Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, Jon Stewart, Ben Stiller (and his father, Jerry), and Robin Williams, among many others.
The comic heavyweights recount who in their families made them laugh and how that propelled them to pursue a career in making others chuckle.
Seinfeld gives accounts of some of the best bits from his storied standup career and brushes aside the notion that his act is based on “observational humor” — a term the comic calls “completely meaningless.” All humor is based on observation, he tells Thomas.
O'Brien makes the distinction between his kind of humor and the “class clown” kind of funny. The class clown, he says, usually “winds up in some sort of motel shooting.”
Humor, Thomas says, can be used not just to make nightclub-goers and TV viewers laugh but also as a mechanism to deal with life's tougher moments.
For instance, she describes how Berle lightened the mood at her father's funeral after Donahue — who was the master of ceremonies — called on him to say a few words. Berle arrived at the pulpit and said, “Thanks, Geraldo.”
The comedians' insights in Growing Up Laughing are fascinating, Thomas' recollections are endearing, and the anecdotes shared by all are downright hilarious.